Most mainstream economists seem to agree this recession will be brutish and deep, and may last two to three years. But it will not evolve into a deflationary spiral leading to a depression. Letâ€™s hope theyâ€™re right, although Chinaâ€™s move this week to bring in a $586 billion stimulus plan did not fill me with hope. I mean, this is China â€“ 1.3 billion people, with a growth rate of 11% last year and a 20% increase in exports, with 15 million people a year being added to the workforce. If Beijing is worried about economic slowdown, is there any hope for us?
And Spain. Sheesh. With forty million people, about the same size as Canada, and yet with almost 3 million unemployed, itâ€™s steaming towards Depression-style unemployment of 20%. And Iceland? Wow, No. 1 on the UN best-places list in 2007 and a basket case now, where 30% of the population wants to leave. All this, of course, in mere weeks.
Meanwhile jobless numbers in the US last month were staggering. The real estate market there has yet to feel bottom. And some smart people are saying the Dow at just under 9,000 will be heading to 400. And I havenâ€™t even touched yet on the suckerâ€™s rally of 1930â€¦
As I write my new book I have been asked for some pointers on surviving a depression. Here are a few:
1. Get out of your mortgage. A true depression will sink residential real estate values by at least half and possible by three-quarters. If you bought a home in the last five years with financing on it, the chances of it falling below not only your purchase price but your mortgage amount are excellent. If that happens, you have no options. Walk away, and youâ€™ll get sued for the difference between the amount you owe and what the bank dumps your house for â€“ and their lawyers never give up. If thereâ€™s any chance you might lose your job in a depression and you donâ€™t own your home mortgage-free, youâ€™re rolling the dice by not selling now and getting out of this soon-to-be-crushing obligation.
2. Get out of town, or at least the big city. Take some of the real estate proceeds and buy a piece of land and maybe a used RV (lots of those for sale these days), and park it. Or move to a smaller, more remote community, where housing costs are far less and community support is far greater. If so…
3. Get a home with its own services, namely a well and a septic bed. If there is an economic collapse, donâ€™t count on governments to be there providing you with endless free, clean water, and the capacity to treat your sewage. All it will take is a sustained power disruption to end those niceties. Then what would you do? What will the millions who live in Toronto do?
4. Buy a generator. You can almost count on the grid going down as utilities struggle with a declining revenue base and the cost of fuel to create electricity. If thereâ€™s an ice or wind storm, it could be months, not hours or days, before service is restored as power companies struggle with their own financial problems and try to operate with reduced staffs.
5. Of course, for a generator, you will need fuel. A natural gas-powered residential unit will operate so long as the gas company keeps the pipes full (definitely longer than the wires overhead will stay up), and a propane generator can run for as long as your storage tank allows (the company supplying you with gas will not be able to pump any into their vehicles without electricity). So a good bet is a large, well-installed gas generator and a few hundred litres of gasoline. Store it in 50-litre cans so it can be moved quickly if necessary and donâ€™t forget to keep a pump close by. You will not want to spill a drop.
6. Live somewhere you can plant a garden. Growing food in a depression is a no-brainer, giving you excellent nutrition at the right price. Get seeds now. Horde them.
7. Get cash and store it safely in a safe.
8. Get a weapon and learn to hunt. In the last Depression, deer and squirrels almost became extinct. Think about it.
9. If dining on rodents is not appealing, then this is another reason to move into a rural area. Chickens are easy to raise, and are one of the most efficient machines on earth for converting feed into protein.
10. Change at least a portion of your savings into gold or silver, since these commodities are historic guardians of wealth. If things get really bad, Canadian dollars could become seriously devalued â€“ a nasty lesson Icelanders learned in their recent brush with disaster. Precious metals are portable and universal, which is another reason you need that safe. Obviously, donâ€™t buy bars of the stuff, but rather gold coins and single wafers of one ounce to five ounces. Easier to pay for gasoline and squirrel meat that way.
11. Make sure you have meds and first aid handy. If you or someone else in your home requires prescription medication, see your doctor and get what you need to fulfill a yearâ€™s worth of it.
12. Buy and store food and water. Collect plastic bottles. Have a bad day box full of supplies â€“ matches, wind-up or solar radio, lanterns and kerosene, camp stove and fuel, thermal blankets, tools including axe and hatchet, tape, pliers, the usual.
13. Get bicycles for your family. Sturdy ones with large tires. No need to pay more than a couple of hundred bucks a piece at Canadian Tire or, better still, Wal-Mart.
14. Get a dog. A real dog, like a German Shepherd or a Rottie. Although you now have to worry about dog food and caring for your petâ€™s health, you have just secured the single best security device possible in a world which, I guarantee you, will be far less secure than this one. Besides, you get an extra friend.
15. Build community support. A protracted depression will tax everyoneâ€™s ability to cope and thereâ€™s no doubt you and everyone around you will need help. So find ways of helping each other. A communal garden could be far more productive than several individual ones, for example, with the constant care and security which will be required. Time can be spent in the evenings rotating between various homes, so precious generator fuel is not wasted lighting many houses separately. Find those on your street or in your building who have time on their hands, and can do the necessary maintenance and repair work that a condominium corporation or the city will surely abandon. Most importantly, find others to share your burdens with and to talk about sweeter times to come.
But of course, weâ€™ll all be okay.
Note: Early reaction of some readers indicates a belief I am predicting a depression. Not so fast. What I am doing above is giving some guidance in case a deflationary cycle occurs. In my coming book, ‘After the Crash’, I also offer extensive additional advice on how to prepare for the possibility of such an event, and the odds of it happening. — Garth